Tea, teamwork and pets of all kinds

Welcome to a new year and an interview with a difference. Penny Reeve and Cecily Anne Paterson write The Pet Sitters series together as Ella Shine and it was my pleasure to chat with them both about why they write, how they came up with the series and some of the challenges involved in their creative collaboration.

Ella Shine LOVES pets of all kinds. She lives in Sydney, Australia with her three cats, four bunnies, parakeet, bearded dragon and an imaginary ant farm for company. When she’s not writing stories for children she can be found dreaming up adventures and hunting for the unexpected with at least one of her pets in tow!

When she’s not writing as Ella Shine, Penny writes as Penny Reeve or Penny Jaye and is the author of more than 20 books for children and older readers. She’s an experienced writing workshop leader, conference presenter and writing coach with a particular interest in equipping children’s writers. You can learn more about Penny at www.pennyjaye.com and www.pennyreeve.com

Award-winning novelist Cecily Anne Paterson writes ‘braveheart’ fiction for girls aged 9-14. She grew up in Pakistan where she went to boarding school in the Himalayan mountains, and now lives with her family on Sydney’s beautiful Northern Beaches. She’s a freelance editor and writer, an engaging speaker and presenter, a reluctant housekeeper, and an aspiring, but average cellist. See www.cecilypaterson.com

AUTHOR INSIGHTS

Why do you write?

Penny: Writing is how I explore ideas and issues, but I also love the joy and power of story and finding ways to communicate to an audience through words.

Cecily: It’s annoying, but I can’t not write. It’s a compulsion I’ve had my whole life since I was eight and sat down and wrote newspapers about what was going on in our family. (They weren’t very interesting.)

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?

Penny: I’d probably be doing what I already do when I’m not writing: being a stay-at-home mum trying to find ways to make a living with my creativity. Or I’d find myself in a teaching role of some sort, but probably not full-time classroom teaching. I love working with kids.

Cecily: I have very inferior skills, but I’d like to be a full-time musician. Failing that, I wouldn’t mind running a fancy op shop. Being realistic, I suppose I’d probably settle down to being a teacher or working in administration.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?

Penny: When I first started out, I struggled to find a publisher who published the genre I wrote in. Plus, my writing wasn’t that great. So I needed to improve my craft while at the same time getting creative about finding the right publisher.

Cecily: Same as Penny. Craft, creativity and finding ways to get past rejection. I was encouraged early on by an editor from Penguin Books who liked my first novel and suggested ways to make it better, so I rewrote it with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, they didn’t take it in the end, but it gave me some assurance that I wasn’t simply a deluded, talentless hack.

The Pet Sitters junior fiction series is a collaborative project. How did that come about?

Cecily: We were talking about children’s books, as we are prone to do, and one, particular, massively successful series for eight-year olds. I think I may have uttered the words, ‘We could write those,’ and the vision grew legs.

Penny: It was also a great project to have on the go during 2020 as it required us to work together and have a sense of writing connection even when many other writing opportunities were slowing down.

Walk us through the process, please. How did that work? Were there specific challenges?

Penny: We decided early on that we wanted to write the books together with both of us having equal creative input. We began with a planning day where we sat and drank tea and plotted the stories. Then we took turns to write the first draft chapters, using our plan as a guide. It was immensely fun but was also quite challenging, especially at the beginning as we have very different natural writing styles.

Cecily: To be fair, we drank a lot of tea. And even before we started on the story plans, we did a lot of work on intended audience, the length of the books, and the different elements we wanted to include. We created the characters in detail before they even set foot in a story. We also created the author character of ‘Ella Shine’. It seemed too cumbersome to have both our names on the front cover, so we made up something far more memorable. You can read more about us here: https://puddledogpress.com/about

How involved have you both been in the development of your books? Did you have input into the cover and illustrations?

Penny: Because we decided to independently publish these books, we took ownership of the entire project. This meant we needed to source and contract an illustrator for the project. Thankfully, Lisa Flanagan was interested, and her style really complements the stories.

Cecily: Penny and I are both honest enough to know where our talents and experience lie and there was a neat, natural division of labour in creating this series. It’s a great example of the  whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Working together, we’ve achieved more than we thought we could. (For example, Penny was smart enough to apply for government funding for audiobooks, which we received. Adding the amazing voice narration skills of Suzanne Ellis to the project has made it even better. Check out our audiobooks here. https://puddledogpress.com/pet-sitters-news/cot8kp5zvuay7fkq1m8ignczlzfeq5 )

What’s the best aspect of your writing life?

Penny: I love the creative stage of writing; the freedom of the first draft. But I also love the final product and being able to interact with students and readers when the book is finished. I suppose because audience is always my focus, I love seeing how people response to the books I write.

Cecily: Finishing. I get to the middle of a book and feel like poking my eyes out, it’s so hard. I like ending, and editing, and then later, reading what I wrote. (Also, I like fan mail. Especially the emails where they tell you that my books made them cry… in a good way.)

—the worst?

Penny: Rejections are never fun. One of my books (Our of the Cages) was rejected 11 times before it found a publisher, but it went on to win an award so the extra time and effort probably paid off.

Cecily: Yeah. Same as Penny. Rejection by publishers, and rejection by readers in the form of bad reviews. My skin is thickish, but it still hurts.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer?

Penny: I’d tell myself to relax and take my time, to learn as much as I could, but also to have realistic expectations. Being a writer in Australia is hard work and statistically doesn’t pay well. I’d probably also tell myself to go do a basic marketing course!

Cecily: I’d study genre, figure out what’s selling and write that! (Money to pay the bills does help in life…) Also, I’d work hard on my craft and join a critique group sooner than I did.

What’s the best advice you were ever given?

Penny: Don’t send your manuscript to all the publishers at the same time. Suzanne Gervay once said this to me after I admitted I admitted I’d sent my story to five publishers. She advised me to send out sparingly to allow time and space to rework in between. And she was right. I’ve been doing that ever since.

Cecily: I’m not sure if this was said to me, or if I made it up myself, but it’s this: you can’t expect most people around you to care about the books you write. Your audience is out there somewhere, but it probably isn’t your family or even your friends. If you live or die by the praise of the people immediately around you, you won’t keep living as a writer.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?

Penny: Learn, read and write. Never think you’ve learned or read everything you need to. We can always learn more both about our craft and the work of others. But at the same time, don’t stop writing!

Cecily: Start a blog. Write and publish something small every day. Read other people’s work and pull it apart. Why did they do it this way? What makes this good or bad? If you grew up reading anything written before the 1980s, know that writing has changed. You can’t write something in the style that you loved as a kid: it doesn’t work anymore. Get a handle on close third person point of view, or your work will never even get looked at.

How important is social media to you as an author?

Penny: Social media is probably quite important for authors, but I’ll admit it doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m active on Facebook but not on many other platforms as I find it too much to keep up with. For the Pet Sitters stories, we use Facebook quite a lot because it’s a useful took for interacting with our readers’ parents and teachers.  https://www.facebook.com/puddledogpress

Cecily:  Facebook = my alternate existence. Instagram = I do it because the cool kids are there. Linked In = boring, but I’m there because, you know… Twitter = runs screaming from the room. Everything else: I’m too old to know what it is or how to use it.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it?

Penny: I very rarely experience the blank page writers block, but I do sometimes face the editing version of writers’ block where I don’t know what or how to improve my manuscript. If this happens I might go back to my planning stage, do some mind mapping on my characters or seek the advice of a trusted writing friend or writing ‘how-to’ book. I also try to get back to the fun, or the heart, of the project I’m working on as that seems to help break through the ‘stuck’ stage.

Cecily: Extremely rarely. If I’ve planned my story properly, I just write what’s in the plan. Occasionally I get scared of my characters and can’t write them. Sometimes I get discouraged and think, ‘this is rubbish, I’m rubbish, and no one is going to read it,’ but I force myself to write two thousand words anyway. I figure I can always fix it later. You can’t fix a blank page.

How do you deal with rejection?

Penny: I get really down, eat lots of chocolate, wonder why I’m writing and consider giving up altogether. But a couple of days later I pick myself up, remember how much I love the story I’ve been working on and get back to it!

Cecily: Chocolate.

In three words, how would you describe your writing?

Penny: I’d probably describe my writing as topical, relatable and fun. Ella Shine is possibly more playful and less serious than my other writing!

Cecily: Character-driven, dialogue-rich, lots of sub-text. Like Penny, Ella Shine is more light-hearted and fun than my usual middle grade and YA novels.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life?

Penny: I’d love to have a chat with Kate Dicamillo. I’d like to hear how she holds and weighs the hard parts of her writing with the lightness and hope of children’s literature. I’d be interested in it technically (her writing process) but also emotionally (how she processes the balance).

Cecily: I’d like to hang with a literary legend like Anne Tyler and find out if truly exceptional writing (the sort I get jealous of) can only happen for introverted, thoughtful, eccentric types who don’t have to keep ahead of the schedules of four children and who have someone else doing the washing and the cooking and the cleaning. Can you be a great writer/artist if you’re also a regular parent-at-home without long periods of reflection and solitude? It doesn’t seem to happen for me.

BOOK BYTE

Need a pet sitter? Cassie and Lina are the girls for the task… as long as Gus the talking cat can keep out of trouble!

Best friends Cassie and Lina would love to take a pet to the Pet Parade but it’s not possible… until they’re asked to pet sit Gus the cat next door. The girls might be ‘ready for anything’ but Gus isn’t quite the cat they were expecting.

Looking for an engaging, fun junior series with great values, gorgeous characters and hilarious action, with a sprinkling of the unexpected? Welcome to the Pet Sitters.

Pet Sitters Website: www.puddledogpress.com

Store site: https://puddledogpress.com/store

Meet the Author: Tobias MCorkell

Tobias’s top tip for aspiring authors: Don’t look for ‘tips’ or advice; cultivate your own practice.

Tobias McCorkell is a writer and academic whose fiction and non-fiction interrogate the class, gender and generational divides of Australian culture. He also writes light non-fiction, humour and gift books under the name Tobias Anthony.

The manuscript for Tobias’s first novel, Barely Anything, was awarded the University of Melbourne/Affirm Press Prize for Creative Writing in 2015. In 2018, Tobias appeared at the Melbourne Emerging Writer’s Festival. In 2019, he was accepted into residency programs both domestically and internationally, including a Varuna Residency Fellowship and a Leighton Artists Studios Residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Canada.

Tobias has been teaching creative writing at the University of Melbourne since 2012.

Find out more about Tobias at https://www.tobiasmccorkell.com/

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? To tell the truth and connect with people. I’m mostly dissatisfied with how people interact with one another, there’s always a barrier, but writing strips that barrier away and the possibilities for connection and intimacy – even with strangers, with people who you’ve never met – are suddenly limitless.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’d like to open a florist, or at least work in one. Probably, though, I’d be a schoolteacher like everyone else in my family.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Time. There’s just no way around it but getting to the required skill/competency level takes about ten years or more, and years of persistent effort. Except for a few freaks or ‘young’ authors being exploited by publishers keen to trade in on youth or some novelty aspect of their identity, the vast majority of people aren’t publishing in their twenties.  

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Really involved! I’m lucky being published by Transit Lounge, because they were keen to see me publish the book I wanted to publish, and so I felt supported during the editing process and like I was in control of the situation. This doesn’t always happen, so I’ve had a dream run with this book, though I’d say it comes down to how professionally you behave and how well you understand your novel as well as the industry. And yes, I helped design the cover – it was almost exactly as I imagined – so I’m to blame if you dislike it.  

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Getting to write. It’s all I want to do, really, apart from watch horror movies and read. If I could find a way to make money off the other two, I’d be set.

—the worst? The administrative tasks: emails, applying for grants/funding/residencies, submitting your work, doing Q+As (just kidding!), etc. It takes more time than it ought to, and mostly your applications are rejected anyway, so it can really feel like a waste, plus it eats into your concentration and focus on the ‘real’ stuff – the writing itself. 

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would’ve spent less time writing and more time reading and trusted that Time would take care of the rest. I wasted precious years stressing about the quality of my work and wondering if/when I’d be published. If I’d been less career-driven I would’ve had space for other things, too, like prioritising my own happiness, which means I would likely have left my relationship a long time before it ended … Too dark?

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I’m really not sure about this one … I can’t stress the importance of becoming a good editor enough and learning the ropes on the technical side of things. But I was always told this and just never listened. But then, my focus was elsewhere, and I got a handle on that part eventually.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? I was once asked ‘What’s a voice that isn’t being voiced?’ and it’s always stuck with me as a way towards conceptualising what I want to do next. My writing isn’t especially original, I’m a fairly traditional writer in some respects, but I can aim to be good and to write something I’d like to read that perhaps isn’t readily available.

How important is social media to you as an author? Not very, though I do tweet relevant information if I have anything to promote and have, only this month, created a Facebook account to do likewise. But I don’t have a big following and doubt it’s of much use. I can’t get past the long-held belief that social media is a disease for the mind, adopted by depressives and the undertalented in a bid for underserved attention. 

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Not really, I think it’s a bit of a myth, a bit like that one about how everybody has a book in them. I think most people don’t have a book in them, and these are probably the same people walking around convinced they’re suffering from writer’s block. Regardless, planning helps – writers should spend about as much time simply thinking about their project and planning as they do writing.

How do you deal with rejection? Booze and good conversation; so, hitting a bar with a mate or date. Sex, too, if I can get it.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Oh. My. God …

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Jean Rhys. And only on the condition that we wouldn’t waste a single second talking about writing.  

BOOK BYTE

Everything in its Right Place

Tobias McCorkell

Coburg, Melbourne. Ford McCullen is growing up with hismother Deidre and his Pop and Noonie in ‘The Compound’, a pair of units in the shadow of Pentridge prison. His father, Robert, has left them to live in the bush with his new male partner. Nobody is coping.
When Ford’s paternal grandmother Queenie’s good fortune allows him to attend a prestigious Catholic private school on the other side of the river and to learn the violin, Ford finds himself balancing separate identities. At school he sees himself being moulded into an image that is not his own, something at odds with the rough and tumble of his beloved north.
Crumbling under the weight of his family’s expectations and realising that he just might be the only adult amongst them, Ford embarks on a quest for meaning while navigating the uncomfortable realities of his father’s life, his mother’s ongoing crisis, and the pillars of football and religion, delving
ever deeper into a fraught search for the source of the ‘McCullen curse’.
Everything in its Right Place tackles themes of class, love and sexuality with humour, truth and grit. It is a story of the legacies and dilemmas that families bring, of how we all must find our own way.

Buy the book: https://transitlounge.com.au/shop/everything-right-place/

Meet the Author: Barry Lee Thompson

Barry’s top tip for aspiring authors: Be patient. The literary industry moves very slowly. Do your research on publishers, and take the time to get your approach right before sending your manuscript out. Find a publisher that you know will look after and respect your work. Take risks, be brave. And don’t be discouraged by rejection.

Photo by Damjan Janevski.

Barry Lee Thompson was born in Liverpool in the UK. After studying art history at the University of East Anglia, he moved to London. He lives in Melbourne, Australia. His short stories are published in Australia, the UK, and the USA, and have been recognised in awards including the Bridport Prize, The Age Short Story Award, and the Overland Victoria University Short Story Prize. His work appears frequently in Roomers magazine. He is a member of Elwood Writers, and of the Alumni Association of Varuna, the National Writers’ House. Broken Rules and Other Stories (Transit Lounge, September 2020) is his first collection of fiction. The book is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria, and by Varuna, the National Writers’ House.

Find out more here: www.barryleethompson.com

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? Because I’m inquisitive and I always want to see what happens. Writing is a way to slow things down, to examine them closely.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’d probably be wishing I were a writer.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Doubts about the viability of short-story collections. When I first started writing the stories in Broken Rules, there was talk of the demise of short fiction. And it was suggested in some quarters that readers might be disinclined to buy short-story collections not by a familiar author. Fortunately, there are publishers and readers out there who are willing to take a chance on new authors.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Transit Lounge has been terrific in keeping me involved and informed throughout the production process. I was given a choice of covers, and we discussed these and came to an easy consensus. Publishers are in the business of book production and understanding the marketplace. Transit Lounge is a successful independent press. I was familiar with their list from the very beginning, so I knew my book was in the best hands.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Being responsible for my own time. Being able to escape into the page. And I love how reading is part of the job, and that sometimes the answer to a writing problem can come from walking, or from just staring into space. I like sitting still.

—the worst? The precariousness can sometimes be terrifying.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Nothing, probably. It’s been useful to go down a few wrong paths, to make mistakes and learn from them. Nothing’s a waste of time. But maybe that’s a boring answer. Perhaps I’d try to worry less.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I wish I’d been shown how to find the opportunities in rejections, to learn how to move on quickly and not be discouraged by them.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Keep your mind on the work. Cultivate gratitude for the people who take time to read your work.

How important is social media to you as an author? Other than a blog, which I treat more like a website, I don’t use social media. I deleted my accounts a few years ago. It was becoming too consuming. I don’t doubt social media has its benefits when used thoughtfully, but it’s not for everyone. I like the peace and freedom that comes from being unplugged.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t think I’ve experienced it. This may be to do with the way I write. I don’t sit down for lengthy periods in front of a page, but dip in and out through the day. Writing is a series of problems. I walk a lot, and think a lot, and sit and daydream, and ideas and solutions arrive in those moments. It’s all work because it’s all part of the process. A blank page can be an exciting thing, but sometimes it’s easier to visit an existing piece of work. Because I write short pieces, I’ve got hundreds on the go at any one time. I just have to delve into my files and open up a few documents, and before long I’ll stumble across a story I want to work on. If a story isn’t going anywhere, I file it away, sometimes until years later, then choose another page, blank or otherwise.

How do you deal with rejection? Rejection is cruel, but it’s all in the game, and everyone experiences it. I’ve found rejections often come in twos or threes, compounding the impact. Over time I’ve learned to understand them a bit better, and now they roll off more easily. It’s helpful to have some awareness of what might lie behind a rejection, and reframe it. A rejection is a decision made at a particular time by a particular person about a particular piece of work. All three of those are variables. The decision means the work wasn’t right for that occasion, but it will find its home, eventually. Rejection as opportunity. It’s easier said than done, though.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Let me think.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Samuel Beckett. I’d be interested in hearing his views on social media.

BOOK BYTE

Broken Rules and Other Stories

Barry Lee Thompson

These awards-listed, interlinked stories vividly capture the
small, rarely spoken moments of our lives that reverberate
with meaning, with darkness and with light. An adolescent
son and his parents on their annual holiday at a Bournemouth
guesthouse become intrigued with the glamour and
otherness of an American family from Boston. An adult son
and his mother navigate an unnerving relationship based on
dependence and ritual. A woman transgresses her husband’s
rules and his distaste for parties. A sex-worker empathises with
the life of an elderly client. From derelict industrial districts, to
a lonely highway diner, to the faded charm of a British seaside
resort, these are stories of growing up marginalised and living
in working-class England and Australia.

The book is available here.

 

 

Meet the Author: Claire Fitzpatrick

Claire’s top tip for aspiring authors: Write what you know, and be honest in your writing. Put your heart and soul into your writing. It’ll make for a more intriguing and realistic story.

Claire Fitzpatrick is a visual artist, performance artist, and award-winning author of speculative fiction and non-fiction. Called ‘Australia’s Queen Of Body Horror’, she enjoys writing about anatomy and the darker side of humanity. Her collection Metamorphosis from IFWG Publishing, was hailed as ‘simply heroic’, ‘graphic, disturbing, honest’, and ‘nothing short of a masterpiece’. She lives with her fiancé, the spray-paint artist Misery Ink Design, and their weird goblin kids somewhere in Queensland. Claire is currently working on a gory dark fantasy novella about shapeshifters and a non-fiction project on Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley.

You can find out more about her on her website and social media:

Website: www.clairefitzpatrick.net

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/witch.of.eldritch

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/throughaglass_darkly91/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CJFitzpatrick91

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write?  Writing has always been the most stable thing in my life, and I honestly don’t really know what else to do with myself. I have a bachelor degree in Government and International Relations, a Postgraduate Certificate in Writing, Editing, and Publishing (the latter quite boring to complete, to be honest), and I started a Masters degree in Health and Rehabilitation Sciences before being fired. That was crap. But writing has always been there for me, to lift me up when I’m down, and to remind me it’s OK to fail at things because at least it’s something I excel in. I write because it’s cathartic, and it’s the only way I can express my feelings. I’m really bad at expressing my feelings. Ask my fiancé. (We’re getting married in two weeks. Gosh. That’s scary).

 What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? No idea. I’m constantly reinventing myself, though I suspect it’s part of my mental illness (I have Borderline Personality Disorder). Over the past seven years, I’ve worked in government, retail, hospitality, vocational education, journalism (news, radio, and music), human resources, and marketing. I find it really hard to keep a job or stick to a profession, and writing has been what’s grounded me. I’m really into gardening. Maybe I’ll work in horticulture? The possibilities are endless. I am, however, a performance artist and comedian (I’ll work a gig once every two or three months). That, along with my writing, have been the most stable aspects of my ‘career.’ Let me know what you think I should do next.

 What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? My first professional horror publication was in 2015. However, I had four comedy stories published in 2013, a poetry chapbook published in 2012, and a poem commended in the Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Competition in 2002 (I think I was 12). But the initial success of being published in a professional horror magazine was, at first, hard to replicate. I felt like I had to be 100% better than I needed to be and held myself at an unreasonably high standard. It was a really difficult time for me. I always had to try harder, be better. It was only when I actually relaxed and wrote something uniquely personal that I overcame the fear of being a ‘one-hit-wonder’ kind of writer and went on to have several more publications. So, the toughest obstacle was and still continues to be me.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Luckily, I had the opportunity to work with my cover artist, as we’ve collaborated in the past. Greg Chapman is an amazingly talented artist. Not only did he work with me on my idea for the cover of Metamorphosis, but he also designed and physically created the cover of my award-winning non-fiction anthology The Body Horror Book. Greg listened to me and slightly altered his design to suit my wishes, which I’m so grateful for. I’m excited to work with him again, as he designed the cover of my upcoming anthology A Vindication Of Monsters, a non-fiction book on Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley (submissions are open –get in contact with me for details!). You can find Greg at www.darkscrybe.com/ (his writing website) and www.darkartiste.wordpress.com/ (his artist website). Greg is superbly talented! It’s always an honour to collaborate with him.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Not having to leave the house. Joking! I love the fact that people appreciate my imagination. I love that they enjoy reading what I have to say about myself, and the world. I love that I’m accepted for who I am, and what I write.

—the worst? I’m poor! Haha Don’t become a writer and expect to make money. Unless you’re a crime writer and extort people.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I think I’d try not to beat myself up over stories that aren’t accepted. I’d say, “Hey Claire, there are going to be some stories that just aren’t at the highest calibre they could be. Sometimes you get lazy when you’re in a slump. Also, it’s OK if you’re in a slump. That’s just how writing works. Additionally, stop thinking you’re a fraud. You’re being stupid and need to snap out of it.”

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Writing is a personal journey; you’re either successful or you’re not. But I’d like to have been told that it’s completely fine to not be published by the ‘big five’ publishing houses because it doesn’t mean you’re not a good writer. I’ve been fortunate enough to be published by a well-respected and high calibre Australian speculative fiction and children’s fiction publisher. I’m sure I would have been upset if my manuscript had been rejected, but it’s perfectly fine to have to keep trying. You can’t always be successful on your first go. Sometimes you just need to work at it. It’s very rare for people to become instantly successful.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? A few years ago, I was completing a creative non-fiction course at university, and I was finding it hard to figure out what to write about for my major project. Then my teacher told me it’s always best to write what you know, write what you feel strongly about, your passions, what makes you angry, what makes you depressed. Write something that is uniquely your story to tell, whether it be fiction or creative non-fiction. Personally, I think it’s important to be honest in your writing. Only you can tell your story. Write about you.

How important is social media to you as an author? Most of the people in my Facebook friends list are fellow writers. I have a Twitter account, but I don’t use it much. I think it’s important to use social media to connect with fellow writers. Find your tribe. You’ll grow as a writer, and as a person. Trust me.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? All the time. I’ve been writing a novella for about three years now, and I just can’t seem to finish it. It’s pissing me off. I go to write and…. nothing. But I tend to get writers’ block with larger projects, as opposed to short fiction. Saying that I have several unfinished short stories that I’ve neglected because I have no idea how to finish them. It’s hard to give advice on how to overcome writers’ block since I think many people overcome it in different ways. Something I do, which is helpful, is write non-fiction if I’m stuck on fiction, and vice-versa. So, I’d always recommend people do that. At the moment I’m pretty fucking (can I swear?) depressed, as my father has terminal cancer, and I’ve been writing like crazy. But I have a feeling I’ll get writers’ block after he passes. That’s the way life is, I suppose. I’m not sure how I’ll overcome that.

How do you deal with rejection? Sometimes, it hits me hard. I tell myself I’m shit and worthless and that my success won’t last. But that’s the borderline personality disorder talking. I’m quite a ridiculous person. But after a while I’ll write something new, and it’ll be accepted, and that makes me feel better. Sometimes I paint or tend to my plants. That’s always helpful. When I’m feeling better, I remind myself I’m 29, and a lot of people aren’t professionally published, or win an award/awards until they are older. I just happened to become relatively successful in my field in my twenties. So, rejection is OK. Just have to keep your chin up.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Bloody. Grotesque. Honest.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Clive Barker. After I read his work I immediately wanted to write body horror, and the first body horror story I wrote was my first professional publication. I’d just want to say thank you for helping me find my niche. I’d then ask him to tell me how to finish my damned novella, and how I can balance my writing life with my ‘real’ life. Actually, if anyone can tell me how to do that, that’d be swell.

BOOK BYTE

Metamorphosis

by Claire Fitzpatrick

Madeline will never become a woman. William will never become a man. Does June deserve to be human? Does Lilith deserve a heart?

Seventeen stories. Seventeen tales of terror.

If imperfection is crucial to a society’s survival, what makes a monster?

Buy the book here: https://www.amazon.com.au/Metamorphosis-Collection-Stories-Claire-Fitzpatrick/dp/1925956040

Meet the Author: JD Murphy

John’s top tip for aspiring authors: Read Steven King’s excellent memoir/coaching guide called ‘On writing.’

John D Murphy is an Australian author based in Queensland, He has had a lifelong attraction to storytelling; from stories ranging across family entertainment skits as a child, to turning his life into story as an art of understanding his adult purpose. This first of his novels is, above all, designed to entertain readers and he hopes they will be open to the tale he has crafted within.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write?  For the pleasure which writing affords me.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?  Teaching and travelling – preferably together.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?  Finding ‘that’ publisher who operates between the big end of town and the self-publishing domains.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? With respect to the development, I have had full engagement. With respect to the cover, I suggested some themes which I considered important; then a creative interpreted those ideas with required commercial focus. I was very pleased with the results.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Taking a fleeting dream sequence and turning it into a kind of reality which will appeal to a reader.

—the worst? 1. Constant interruptions by cats whose dominant thoughts are that I should be focused on them rather than writing. 2. Covid 19 chaos for grounding the launch of my first novel in April 2020.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Dream less and read more.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? To read Steven King’s excellent memoir/coaching guide called ‘On writing.’

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Writers write; Authors publish.

How important is social media to you as an author? I am a shy, retiring, outgoing, loquacious type who really has to have something of substance to say before engaging with SM.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Never been a problem. Nor talking incessantly, as my dear wife and close friends would earnestly confirm.

How do you deal with rejection (of a manuscript)? Just the same as any other bump I have had on my life’s paths. Identify the issues and address them. Only happened once, because I had far too many typographical errors in the manuscript to be considered seriously. Having fixed said typographical errors with some stiff editing, I submitted to a Melbourne publishing house and the rest is going to be history.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Engaging. Relevant. Reflective.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? David H Richter. Falling into Theory (1994). I would be pleased for this author to expand on those of his words which told me that I was going to walk on a writing path.

‘If in my life I have developed any ability to understand those who are other than me, other in race or gender or culture or sexual practice, a good deal of my training in empathy must have come from the practice fiction and poetry have given me in taking on other selves, other lives.’

BOOK BYTE

The Arbor girls are a force to be reckoned with

Maeve Fossard, a nurse during the bombings of Bristol in WW1 wants to escape the pain and suffering around her. A trip to a pub and a chance meeting with a stranger named Colin, changes her life. The shadow world of spies and politics becomes a reality.

Through two World Wars, the Cold War and into the Sixties; from England to Australia, she encounters ultimate highs and soul sapping lows.

Every action has consequences. Her companions, Margaret and Allison, their fates entwined, join a rich tapestry of characters, in her endeavours to create an invisible dynasty of social reform which will continue through to the future and span the globe…

“A fantastic read from a new Australian Author who has a flair for the period of such a wonderful storyline…authentic and moving with beautiful nuances and themes…5 Stars…”  Gail, IndieBooks Reviewer.

 

 

 

 

Meet the Author: Sally Murphy

One of the loveliest aspects of my writing life is the friends I have made along the way. This week it’s my pleasure to introduce long-time friend Sally Murphy, who recently celebrated the release of her latest book for young readers, Worse Things, an inspirational story about the things that bind us all.

Sally is a children’s author, poet, book reviewer, academic, and beach walker.  Her 52 published books include verse novels, junior fiction, picture books, historical fiction , poetry and educational titles. When she isn’t writing or reading, she can be found near water, or hanging out with her family – or at her day job, at a university.

To find out more about Sally and her books, visit her author website:  www.sallymurphy.com.au

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? That is a BIG question. I write because I have to – it’s like breathing to me. Stories and poems and words come to me demanding to be put down – and then reworked and reworked of course.  But I also write because  there are stories, sometimes, that I feel only I can tell and because I love to think I am making some small difference in the world through telling those stories.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Persistence. It took me many years to get my first acceptance, and I still get more rejections than acceptances. Many of my manuscripts have never found the right home – and never will – and that can hurt when it happens. But a rejected manuscript is still proof that I am writing and creating, and everything I write makes me a better writer, whether it’s published or not. So  I just keep writing, and studying the craft of writing and writing some more.

You write poetry, picture books, junior fiction series and verse novels. Was it your intention to find different markets for your creative output or did it evolve naturally as an expression of who you are? Mostly I just write the thing that comes to me and then figure out what it is. I think that having a range has helped me to keep getting published, and to find different outlets for my work, but I also know it can make me hard to classify.  I have fallen into some forms of writing – for example, I didn’t see myself writing historical fiction until I stumbled across a story that fascinated me, and had to follow it. That led to my first historical picture book, Do Not Forget Australia. Once that was published, I realised that I loved researching history and crafting stories. My three subsequent historical stories were all ones publishers approached me to write, because they knew I wrote historical fiction.

How do you approach a new writing project? Walk us through your creative process. Once you have an idea, what’s the next step? Process? I’m supposed to have a process? Just kidding!  I know some people are very good at plotting and planning, but I have to confess I’m generally not. Usually an idea just comes to me, half formed – maybe just a character, or a snippet of an idea. I try to note things down, and then just see what happens. If it has wings, it will niggle away at me, and random ideas will come to me over weeks or even months until suddenly I realise there is a story there and I start writing.  Usually by this stage I have some idea where the story might be heading, but not the finer details. These evolve during the first draft, and then, once I have a draft down the hard work involves reworking and remolding, often adding strands and characters and detail. It’s a little different when I write historical fiction, which usually starts with a real event that I want to write about, followed by LOTS of research until I find a way in to telling it.

How has teaching influenced you as an author? Firstly, it is because I’m a teacher that my first ever book acceptance came about. I had been trying for years to get fiction and poetry published, when I stumbled across an educational publisher looking for proposals for classroom resources books. I sent in a proposal and it was accepted. I went on to write several more books for that publisher (Ready Ed Publications) and they are still in print, over 20 years later. Having that first acceptance gave me the courage to keep writing and submitting.  I’ve also had lots of other titles published for the educational market.

Having said that, when I write fiction and poetry I try not to wear my teacher hat. I want my work to reach readers first and foremost as readers rather than as students.

What are you working on at the moment? A few things. Some research for a possible historical, and an idea for a new verse novel which hit me last week and won’t leave me alone. I also have two junior novels to revise, one a verse novel and one prose. They both need a lot of work.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? Hope. I want a reader to finish my story smiling – even if it has been a sad or challenging story. I always work to leave them with some sense of hope, that things can be better.

Is there any area of writing that you still find challenging? Description. I have something called aphantasia – although I didn’t know it had a name till a few years ago. This means that I don’t imagine in pictures – except when I’m asleep. So, when I try to imagine what a scene looks like, I draw a blank. I can tell you what it feels like, sounds like etc, but not the visuals.  So I really have to work on visual description. Interestingly, I know of several other writers with the same condition.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Getting published and thus seeing my books in the hands (and hearts) of readers.

—the worst? Rejection.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Believe in myself more. Even after 50 books I still feel like a fraud.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? The importance of a good editor.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Be yourself – as an individual and as a writer, you need to do what is true to who you are.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Read. A lot.

How important is social media to you as an author? Very. I have lived in rural areas for most of my writing career and now divide myself between Perth and the South West. Social media allows me to share my writing and my writing life far and wide, and to interact with readers.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t ever run out of ideas, but I do struggle to write at times of crisis in my life. I used to try to force it, but now I am kinder to myself. Instead of setting word targets, I sometimes know I have to just let myself do other things. Recently, with Covid 19 and a death in my family, I found myself taking long beach walks, and doing a lot of gardening. And then, because I’d just left it, a story idea came along and bit me on the nose.

How do you deal with rejection? I can be angry or feel hurt – rejections aren’t personal, but they feel like they are. But rationally, I know that publishers actually want what I do – to publish good books. SO if my book isn’t right for a publisher, it either needs revising, or it needs to be on a different desk – or a combination of both. I try to take a step back from the manuscript, look at with fresh eyes, and decide which of those things is needed.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Eclectic. Emotional. Effervescent.

Now for a little light relief – If you were going to be stuck in a stalled lift for several hours who would you choose to share the experience with you and why? Light relief? I’m claustrophobic, so being stuck in a lift is almost my worst nightmare. So, I would choose my husband, because he is very steady.

BOOK BYTE

Worse Things

Sally Murphy

Illustrated by Sarah Davis

After a devastating football injury, Blake struggles to cope with life on the sideline. Jolene, a gifted but conflicted hockey player, wants nothing more than for her dad to come home. And soccer-loving refugee, Amed, wants to belong. On the surface, it seems they have nothing in common. Except sport. A touching and inspirational story about the things that bind us all.

Publisher’s Webpage: https://www.walkerbooks.com.au/Books/Worse-Things-9781760651657

Sales site:  https://www.booktopia.com.au/worse-things-sally-murphy/book/9781760651657.html  (or any other online bookshop you want to link to)

 

 

 

 

 

Meet the Author: Alison Booth

It’s my pleasure this week to introduce you to academic and author Alison Booth, whose work has been described as ‘evocative, insightful and thought-provoking’

ALISON’S TOP TIPS FOR WRITERS: Keep at it. Don’t give up. Have faith in yourself and remember that writing a novel requires a very long apprenticeship. Make sure you have a day job or some other income source because only rarely can writers make a living from writing alone.

Alison Booth was born in Melbourne and brought up in Sydney. She spent over two decades studying, living and working in the UK before returning to Australia some fifteen years ago.

Her debut novel, Stillwater Creek, was Highly Commended in the 2011 ACT Book of the Year Award, and afterwards published in Reader’s Digest Select Editions in Asia and in Europe. Her subsequent novels were The Indigo Sky (2011), A Distant Land (2012), and A Perfect Marriage (2018).

Alison has had a number of residencies at Varuna, The Writers’ House, following on from her initial award, and she is active on social media (Twitter and Facebook). Alison loves doing radio and other interviews, and also loves hearing from readers. Visit her website at https://www.alisonbooth.net

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write?  I write because I’m driven to, because it helps me make sense of the world. And because the act of writing involves so much concentration that I escape from myself, and when I emerge from that state I view my day-to-day life more calmly.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?  I’d still be doing my other work, which is being an academic economist. And in addition to that I might be painting, which I love though I’m not very good at it.

 What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Finding an agent for my first book.

 How involved have you been in the development of your books?  I leave the development to the publisher, apart from the cover. I love seeing the way the cover evolves. The design of my latest book, The Philosopher’s Daughters, took me by surprise because the wonderful Emily Caudelle got the cover exactly right at her very first draft.

 What’s the best aspect of your writing life?  The escape into another world. The joy when the writing is going well and the surprise when things emerge from my subconscious that I hadn’t known were there.

—the worst? Those days when what I’ve written seems like utter garbage and I lose faith in myself. I think we all get those days and we have to guard against them.

 What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Maybe do a creative writing course.

 What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I’m very glad I wasn’t told much because it’s good not to be put off when you’re driven to do something!

 What’s the best writing advice you were ever given? Read widely.

 How important is social media to you as an author? Writers need solitude and many find engagement with social media a shock. But social media provide a useful way of keeping in touch with other writers and what’s going on in the industry. What’s more, publishers insist upon it for book promotion.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I haven’t experienced writer’s block yet.

 How do you deal with rejection? With difficulty, though I did have some training for it: being an academic in my field involves frequent rejection of papers from journals and one learns to toughen up. The important thing is to remember that opinions about fiction are subjective. What one person loves another will hate. Put the rejection letter aside for a few days then return to it later, to see if there’s anything of substance in it you can take on board. Remember also that sometimes a book is rejected because the reader hasn’t got beyond the first chapter, so you might want to rethink that. And then send the book off to another publisher.

 In three words, how would you describe your writing? That’s a hard question to answer as it requires detachment on my part. Instead I will borrow the words that author Karen Viggers used to describe The Philosopher’s Daughters: ‘evocative, insightful, thought-provoking’.

 What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? I hope readers get pleasure from my novels. I hope they enjoy the journeys the books take them on and are interested in the way the plot enhances character development, which is basically what my work is about.

What do you read for enjoyment? Favourite books/authors?  I have a great many favourites. Patrick White, Kate Grenville, Evie Wyld, Rose Tremain and Anne Tyler are particularly wonderful. Recently I’ve discovered Khaled Housseni’s work and I’m looking forward to reading all of his novels.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Rose Tremain and Anne Tyler spring to mind. I’d like to ask Rose Tremain how she has managed to find such variety in her plots and Anne Tyler if she writes a long draft initially and then pares it back to the exquisite and parsimonious prose that characterises her work.

BOOK BYTE

The Philosopher’s Daughters

Alison Booth

 

 

]A tale of two very different sisters whose 1890s voyage from London into remote outback Australia becomes a journey of self-discovery, set against a landscape of wild beauty and savage dispossession. London in 1891: Harriet Cameron is a talented young artist whose mother died when she was barely five. She and her beloved sister Sarah were brought up by their father, radical thinker James Cameron. After adventurer Henry Vincent arrives on the scene, the sisters’ lives are changed forever. Sarah, the beauty of the family, marries Henry and embarks on a voyage to Australia. Harriet, intensely missing Sarah, must decide whether to help her father with his life’s work or to devote herself to painting. When James Cameron dies unexpectedly, Harriet is overwhelmed by grief. Seeking distraction, she follows Sarah to Australia, and afterwards into the outback, where she is alienated by the casual violence and great injustices of outback life. Her rejuvenation begins with her friendship with an Aboriginal stockman and her growing love for the landscape. But this fragile happiness is soon threatened by murders at a nearby cattle station and by a menacing station hand who is seeking revenge.

Buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Katrina McKelvey

My special guest this week is Katrina McKelvey, a children’s author, former primary school teacher, wife, and mother to two tweenagers and a cocker spaniel. She’s written many children’s picture books and educational readers including No Baths Week, Up To Something, Isla’s Family Tree (April, 2020), and Chasing Rainbows (August, 2020). She’s highly involved in CBCA, SCBWI, literary conferences and festivals, and loves visiting schools. She’s left-handed, loves tea and rollercoasters, and is addicted to mint chocolate. While in lockdown in Disney World a few years ago, she survived Hurricane Gene (category 5) by eating awful brownies. You can visit her at www.katrinamckelvey.com

Thank you for joining me, Katrina, and congratulations on the release of your picture book, Isla’s Family Tree, which is a beautiful introduction to the concept of family trees and how they grow for young readers. Let’s find out a little about you and your writing…

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? Flexible use of my time. And I get to make stuff up! I love being creative whether it’s with words, technology, or helping finalise a picture book file just before it goes to print.

—the worst? Waiting to hear back from publishers about submissions. And then getting a ‘no’ when you had a gut feeling it would be a ‘yes’.

Where do you draw the inspiration for your picture books? Everywhere, including observing and listening to my children, and taking in the small things in life. Ideas are all around. We just need to stop and open our eyes, ears, hearts, and minds.

How has your own childhood influenced you as a children’s books author? I was a reluctant reader as a child. I still am. And books weren’t all around me when I was a child, and reading wasn’t modeled by my parents. So, I made sure my children have shelves full of them. We visit libraries and literary events regularly, and I was heavily involved in helping them learn how to read and write. Still am actually. I also try to take them to events where they can meet their literary idols. I remember taking my son to meet Andy Griffiths at the Sydney Writers Festival when he was younger. Great memories!

How do you approach a new picture book project? Walk us through your creative process. Once you have an idea, what’s the next step?

  • Idea comes first – and it usually comes when I’m busy so I type it in the Notes app on my phone.
  • Then I let the idea rumble in my head for days, sometimes weeks – letting it go to crazy places.
  • Next, I write a story plan and try and work out the complication, and what my character’s goal is and what is motivating them.
  • Then I might open a new, secret Pinterest board and start pulling together images and illustrations of what my character looks like.
  • Some research (facts and market research) may come in next – depends on the story.
  • Then I write a first draft.
  • Then a second.
  • Then a third.
  • When I’m happy (and I’m usually very excited by this stage) I’ll start putting my manuscript through my writing groups. I’m now a member of three groups (Hunter Writers Centre, Writing NSW, SCBWI online). In between I’ll do a rewrite before submitting to the next one.
  • When I feel I can’t do anymore with it, I get it professionally edited.
  • After this, of course there’s another rewrite.
  • During the rewrites, I usually make a dummy book (for no one else but myself) and I check on page turns. My daughter usually sits in front of me on the floor and gives me feedback.
  • Once I feel I can’t do any more, I’ll start submitting it to publishers.

What are you working on at the moment? A new picture book about a girl, a dog, a book, and a treehouse. And I’m planning a JF series – very early chapter books.

How much time do you spend on creating each picture book? It varies but sometimes years! Usually nothing less than two years.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? I hope everyone takes away something different. I also hope they connect in some way – either by relating to the character, or relating to the journey. And if my books fuel conversation either in the family, or in the classroom, that’s a bonus. And I adore seeing craft and other activities being completed as a result of my stories.

Is there any area of writing that you still find challenging? Yes. Word count – I always write too many words and don’t always use simple sentences. I’m getting better at controlling passive voice too. And aren’t we all working on improving the technique, ‘show, don’t tell’.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Believing in myself. I learnt quickly no one will until you do. And then I understood writing is emotional but publishing is a business.

What would you be doing if you weren’t writing children’s books? I’d probably be back in the classroom teaching upper primary school children, specialising in gifted education.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as an author? I’d spend more time on the craft of writing before submitting. I’d also get all my manuscripts professionally edited before sending them to a publisher.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become a picture book creator?

  • Writing picture books for children is a specialised craft.
  • The industry has many ups and downs so be ready to navigate the array of emotions along the way.
  • Look at rejections as a good thing. They let you know you’re not there yet but keep to going.

What’s the best advice you were ever given?

  • Be grateful.
  • And you need the 6 P’s:

Patience

Practice

Perseverance

Persistence

Passion

Positivity

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? I have five:

  • Make connections inside the industry. Start with local libraries and bookshop owners. Then find your local authors and illustrators. Join organisations such as SCBWI and CBCA. Subscribe to industry newsletters such as PIO and Buzz Words. Subscribe to publisher newsletters. Join a writing group and get your work critiqued by peers.
  • Educate yourself. Do courses and workshops via your state’s writing centre, the AWC or ASA.
  • Attend literary festivals. Volunteer and help out as well as attend sessions. If available, have a manuscript assessment.
  • Become a member of online groups such as Creative Kids Tales, The Duck Pond, and Just Write For Kids.
  • Follow Australian publishers and inspirational authors and illustrators on social media.

Now for a little light relief – If you were going to be stuck in a stalled lift for several hours who would you choose to share the experience with you and why? Oliver Jeffers – he is so clever, a family man, and has an amazing, caring mind. Stephen Michael King – I want to talk to him about his writing style. Andy Griffiths – he’s always so busy and has thousands of people lining up to see him so no one ever gets to just chat to him. Commissioning editor of my favourite publishing house (I’ll keep that anonymous) – I want to get into their head and find out what makes them sit up when considering publishing manuscripts.

Isla’s Family Tree

Written by Katrina McKelvey, Illustrated by Prue Pittock

Isla’s family is changing and she’s not happy!

It’s time for Isla to explore her family tree so that she can see how all families change and grow over time.

The perfect book for anyone looking to find a way to introduce new family members or show children how they belong in their own family.

Buy the book here.

 

 

 

Meet the Author: Jenn Gott

Jenn’s top tip for aspiring indie authors: Make friends with other indie authors, especially if they write in your genre. It can be tempting to think of them as your competition, but in fact they’re your greatest allies. You can partner up with them to cross-promote through newsletter swaps and giveaways, let each other know about upcoming conventions and podcast opportunities, and just generally get support and encouragement when things get rough.

Jenn Gott is an indie author, as well as a writer for Reedsy, where she posts about books, publishing, and craft advice. So basically, she’s writing all the time. On her few breaks, you can find her snuggling with her cats, watching superhero movies, or designing houses in The Sims.

Find out more about Jenn at her author website: https://jenngott.com

 

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I’ve always been a creative person. Making things up and then finding ways to bring them to life is woven deep into the core of who I am. Over my life, I’ve dabbled in a huge range of hobbies and interests, from drawing to programming to music to Ukrainian egg decorating. Writing stuck around the longest. It’s also the most expansive creative form for me. That isn’t to say that other people can’t create vast worlds with other mediums, but I never got to the point where I could.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? This is going to sound weird, but in another life I’d kind of like to be a mortician! Which I know is not most people’s idea of a “dream job” by any stretch of the imagination. But I’ve always been interested in the macabre, and, like writing, it’s work that seems ideally suited to people who don’t mind spending a lot of time in a small room by themselves.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Honestly, money. As an indie author, there was technically nothing standing in the way of me publishing my book — but I knew that if I wanted to be taken seriously by readers, and have any chance of being successful, I’d need to produce a book that was at least as high-quality as what they’d see from a traditional publisher. That takes time, money, or (ideally) both, and I didn’t feel like I had either to spare when I started out. It was definitely a challenge.

Why did you choose to be an indie author? For me, there were two main factors. One was, ironically, money. I know I was just complaining about the investment it took to get started, but I also knew that if I played my cards right, I would make it back and more, a lot faster than waiting on advances and royalty checks.

The other big factor for me was simply the ability to retain my full creative control. Not that I didn’t trust a publisher to do the job well, I just didn’t trust them to do it the way I would choose. I’m also a very independently-minded person — I like my successes to be entirely my own, and I’m perfectly willing to embrace responsibility for my failures as well. This all combined to make it an easy choice.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Aside from just the joy of creating, I love it when I hear from readers! Getting an email or a message on social media from someone who’s taken the time to read one or more of my books is always such a thrill.

—the worst? The truth is that I really don’t dislike any aspect of writing and publishing. But the hardest part is definitely trying to find new ways to get the word out about my books. Book marketing is an ongoing learning process, in part because the tactics, including how to best influence search algorithms, change so quickly. There are some fundamental marketing principles that will serve you well long-term, but you always need to be open to seeing what’s new, what’s working now — and what’s stopped working. I’ve grown to embrace it and even enjoy it over the years, but it’s absolutely the part that keeps me on my toes the most.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Along those same lines, I wish I had researched and understood book marketing better from the onset. I had been told most of the common pieces of marketing advice before, but since I didn’t really understand why they worked, or what the purpose of each suggestion was, it was easy for me to brush off anything I didn’t feel like doing as a waste of time. This was a huge mistake, and one that definitely hindered my ability to reach readers in my early years of publishing.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? When you tell people you’re an author, a lot of them are going to suddenly look at you like they’re starstruck — yes, even when you’re just starting out and are literally nobody — and you’re going to need to get comfortable with finding a balance between being honest (no, really, I’m not topping the NYT Bestseller charts) and not talking down about your accomplishments. Too often, especially for women, we tend to downplay our successes, and there were times after my first book came out where I made it sound like it was no big deal at all, really, you don’t even have to read it, it’s fine. That’s terrible marketing! But if you’re a newbie and embarrassed about your low sales to start (even though everyone has low sales to start), it feels weird to have someone suddenly get all flustered that, oh my gosh, they’ve just met a real life author. You need to learn to respect that people are genuinely excited by your accomplishment, and that it is an accomplishment, even if you’re not where you want to be yet.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? This is on the craft side of things rather than the business side: have a place where you can just free-write thoughts about the project you’re working on. This can be a journal, or just a file in your notes, or a series of emails to a friend you don’t mind telling all the spoilers to, but it’s important to be able to “talk through” your thoughts as you figure out the details of your story and characters. Especially when you run into snags, having an unstructured place where you can just write out things like: Okay, if I do plot point X, it means that Character B suddenly knows way more than she should at this point in the story. But plot point X really needs to happen here, because… And then just keep writing through the issue until you have (at the very least) a better understanding of where the problem really lies.

This has been far and away the most helpful tip I’ve gotten for untangling my messy outlines and drafts!

How important is social media to you as an author? Probably of medium importance? From a purely marketing perspective, it’s not the best way to gain new fans, but I’ve always enjoyed it for its ability to connect me with both readers and fellow authors. I’ve made a number of good friends through it, and these connections allow me to be part of the bookish community in a way I’d definitely miss if I weren’t on social media at all.

That said, you should only dip into as much social media as you’re comfortable with. People can absolutely tell if you’re there because you want to be there and connect with people, or if you’re just there to push your books. You don’t need to always be the most active if you’re shy and introverted (goodness knows I take frequent breaks and hiatuses!), but make sure that when you are there, you’re present and engaged.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Yes, of course. In my opinion, “writer’s block” is so polarising because,  although we use a single phrase to describe it, we’re actually talking about a variety of different things that all lead to the same, surface-level result: making it hard to get work done.

Instead, I think it’s important that we understand what’s causing our so-called “block” — because the thing that will unblock you in one circumstance will make the block worse in others. As a quick example, if you’re stuck because you’ve realised you made a misstep in your story, taking the tough-love approach and forcing yourself to continue even though you’re miserable will only lead to a messy draft that may well write itself into a corner and worsen your misery. A break here, to clear your head and approach the problem fresh, could easily help. On the other hand, if you’re just feeling tired and unmotivated, allowing yourself to “take a break” can easily lead to a downward procrastination spiral.

So for me, I always try to identity what kind of “block” I’ve run up against (motivation, plot or character struggles, distraction, mental health issues, laziness, fear, etc.). Then I plan a path that will allow me to get back on track the right way.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Vivid. Fun. Devastating. That’s the goal, anyway! Up to readers to see if I’ve managed it.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life?

Elizabeth Gilbert. I’ve only ever read Big Magic, and even though I don’t agree with everything she wrote in that book, I’d really love to sit down and pick her brain and compare our ideas on creativity and what it means to live a creative life.

BOOK BYTE

The Private Life of Jane Maxwell

by Jenn Gott

As the creator of a popular new comics franchise, Jane Maxwell knows a thing or two about heroes, but has no illusions of being one herself. All of that is shattered, however, when she finds herself swept into a parallel world—one where her characters are real, and her parallel self is their leader.

There’s just one problem: that Jane is missing.

Under the growing danger of a deadly new villain named UltraViolet, the team has no choice but to ask Jane to do the impossible: step into the suit left behind by her double, become the hero that they need her to be. But with budding powers that threaten to overwhelm her, a family she only half-recogniSes, and the parallel version of her dead wife staring her in the face, navigating her alternate life proves harder than she ever imagined…

Book links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0743H95RH

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w?ean=2940158789236

Apple Books: https://itunes.apple.com/book/id1261935002

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ebook/the-private-life-of-jane-maxwell

 

 

 

Meet the Author: Janeen Brian

 

Janeen’s top tip for aspiring authors: Get your heart involved in your writing. That is, write honestly with genuine emotional sincerity. Even if it’s a commissioned work, a piece of work you haven’t personally chosen, I still think you can find something in the research or the writing of it you can relate to. Something that sparks your interest, so your writing isn’t wooden.

Photo: Bob Gloyn Photography

Janeen Brian is an award-winning children’s author and poet with over 100 books published in both trade and educational publishing. She enjoys writing picture books, junior fiction, poetry, novels and non-fiction.

Many of her books have been translated and distributed worldwide while more than 200 stories, poems, plays and articles have been published in children’s magazines or anthologies.

Janeen was the recipient of the 2012 Adelaide Festival of Literature Carclew Fellowship and in 2009 also received a May Gibbs’ Children’s Literature Trust Fellowship. Janeen is an Ambassador for Raising Literacy Australia (The Little Big Book Club.)

She loves reading, creating mosaics, aqua-aerobics, Yoga, walking, gardening, travelling, craft work, singing, watching theatre and films and spending time with her family and friends.

She lives in the seaside city of Glenelg, in Adelaide, South Australia with her husband. She has two daughters and four grandchildren.

To find out more, visit her website and Facebook page.

www.janeenbrian.com

www.facebook.com/JaneenBrian

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I think of words as seeds. Each holds power and beauty and can be arranged in a million different ways to bring about a million different outcomes. I love taking disparate words and making connections. I love using my life’s experiences for something other than memories. For me, writing equates to creativity. And creativity is my soul driver.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I was a primary teacher for many years. And a not-so-good actor in a children’s theatre company for a few years! I loved my teaching years but left in 1990 to write full-time and now, I’m not sure I’d return to that career. Perhaps I’d work part-time in Early Childhood centres. And I’d spend the rest of my time creating saleable mosaics from recycled materials – something I’ve been doing for over twenty years.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Because I’m disciplined and have a reasonably strong work ethic, I love being able to work from home.

What’s the worst aspect of your writing life? When I think I’ve conquered a particular structural humbug, only to see it rear its annoying head again in another piece of work.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? To clarify, I never had an ambition to become a writer. I still sometimes find it a surprise that I am one. One writing colleague described it as being an accidental author. However, from age eight, I was set on becoming a teacher. But when, in my thirties, I began to write and later, to become published, I wished I’d been told you had to make TROUBLE in your writing. That CONFLICT was the cannon you fired to action the story.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Ignorance of story. Ignorance of books. I felt this perhaps because my childhood and school life was almost bare of reading material.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I was pretty much a self-taught author. Being a self-starter, I sought out books on how to write, from the library. Much later, there were writing prompts available online, which I ploughed through, and a ‘distant education course’ which I took, sending off work in envelopes. But today, I’d start out by studying the wonderful writing courses that are available both online, in universities and other institutions.

You’ve seen many changes during your writing life. How important is it to be adaptable as an author? What are the key attributes a writer needs for a long-term career in this unpredictable career? I delve deeply and often into my particular ethos of If it’s to be, it’s up to me.  Ultimately, it’s you who has to overcome hurdles and do the work. But sometimes, when even that’s not enough, having like-minded friends and colleagues to buoy you up through those tough times, is invaluable. Also, reaching out into other areas of the arts is helpful and enjoyable.  If you don’t want to sink, you learn to be adaptable in your own way. But, to stay afloat, you need persistence by the truckload. And an understanding that whatever you write can ALWAYS be improved, by revision, learning and practice.

You write picture books, junior fiction, poetry, novels and no-fiction. Do you have a preference? I love the crispness of picture books and poetry. I love to create words that sound perfect and hopefully, also provoke images in a reader’s or an illustrator’s mind. I so enjoy writing junior fiction and since I’ve now written three novels, I really like the expansion they offer as well. But I guess picture books and poetry nudge to the top of the line-up.

Are there any recurring themes to your writing? Succeeding by tapping into your own strength, intuition and creative problem solving would be one theme. So, in a word, resilience. Concern for the environment, another. Bringing history to life and also injecting humour into my writing whenever I can, would be others.

What was the inspiration behind your newest release, Eloise and the Bucket of Stars? It was the combination of two random images; one being memories of visiting old English orphanages. The other was reading the narrative behind medieval tapestries depicting the capture of a unicorn. The next step was to create a character who lived in an orphanage, who may or may not have been an orphan and to uncover her connection with a unicorn. And in so doing, create a story for mid-grade readers that entailed both mystery and magical realism. Talk about a challenge.

Is there any aspect of the writing craft that you still find challenging? Probably structure, particularly in longer pieces.

 

 

How important is social media to you as an author? Social media is good if you stick to those two words. Social, meaning you can visit and enjoy and share or gain information or knowledge from time to time. Media, meaning its very accessible. But beyond that, I’m wary, because it can drag you into passivity – when perhaps you should be writing.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t ever label those sticky times as such, because that tends to set the whole idea in concrete. Yes, I have times when ideas lay low, or the work is sluggish or dull, but now I have a better understanding of dealing with those occasions. Often, I’ll leave the work for a while. Or I might do a brainstorm or mind-map to see if that generates a breakthrough. But it’s usually a stepping away from the work, with or without a certain amount of grace, depending on my mood!

How do you deal with rejection? I still feel sad when it happens. And disappointed. And frustrated. And I’m not the most garrulous person to be around for a little while afterwards.

But it is a case of whether you still believe in the work or not. One case in point, was that my agent couldn’t get any publisher interested in a particular picture book of mine. In the end she returned it to me. I gave it time, rewrote it and sent it to a publisher whom I knew. It was not only published but won a Notable Award at the CBCA Awards.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Image-provoking, heart-felt, language-orientated.

If you had a chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? It would be Kate DiCamillo because she evokes such richness or emotion in her powerful stories. I’d like to know whether her beautiful, pared-down style of writing evolved through her own intuition, or whether it was partly intuitive and partly learning the craft.

BOOK BYTE

Eloise & the Bucket of Stars

Janeen Brian

Orphaned as a baby, Eloise Pail yearns for a family. Instead, she lives a lonely life trapped in an orphanage and made miserable by the cruel Sister Hortense. Befriended by the village blacksmith, Eloise soon uncovers some strange secrets of yesteryear and learns that something terrible may be about to happen to the village. As troubles and dangers mount, she must learn who to trust and choose between saving the villages or belonging to a family of her own. Unless something truly magical happens . . .

The book is available from:

https://www.walkerbooks.com.au/Books/Eloise-and-the-Bucket-of-Stars-9781760651879

https://www.sequelbooks.com/eloise-and-the-bucket-of-stars

https://www.dymocks.com.au/book/eloise-and-the-bucket-of-stars-by-janeen-brian-9781760651879?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIgMi-lreM6QIVF38rCh3XlA5jEAYYASABEgJEqPD_BwE

https://www.qbd.com.au/eloise-and-the-bucket-of-stars/janeen-brian/9781760651879/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIgMi-lreM6QIVF38rCh3XlA5jEAYYAiABEgIhk_D_BwE

https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/eloise-and-the-bucket-of-stars?utm_campaign=shopping_feed_gb_en&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc